Interim President Matthew J. Wilson
I want to begin this first message to campus by expressing my gratitude to everyone. More than anything, I want to thank everyone for their commitment to the University and for working hard during difficult times. Thanks to all who have shown loyalty and love for this institution. Thanks to those who have sent kind messages of support since my appointment as interim president on Monday. I have been amazed at the outpouring of support and offers of assistance. I am humbled by the opportunity to lead our university community during this pivotal point in its history.
I know many of you are eager to know what this “new guy” plans to do in the weeks and months ahead. What does he want to immediately accomplish? What is his agenda? If you didn’t have the chance to hear or read my comments on Monday evening, I would strongly encourage you to take a moment and do so.
As a team, I would like to see us shock the region and quickly rebound from the recent past through our collective efforts. Our campus community knows that this is a great university. Although it may not be “great” in the sense of size, or wealth, or financial means, it is great in terms of the quality of graduates that we produce. It is great in the impact that we make in the lives of so many through quality teaching, exceptional student services, and cutting-edge research. It is great in the potential that exists here.
Two years ago when I came to Akron Law, I found exceptional quality and great potential among its faculty and staff. That kind of exceptional quality and potential exists throughout this entire university. I know it, and you know it. However, many outside our community do not know it, simply because we haven’t done the best job of telling our story. It is incumbent that we tell our story and share positive examples of excellence and potential to Northeast Ohio, the State of Ohio, the nation, and even the world.
How you can help
There are a host of things that we can do without much additional effort:
- Let’s talk! Everyone can spread a positive message about The University of Akron through our contacts in society, social media, guest appearances at local high schools, and various opportunities for community outreach.
- Let’s go the extra mile! We can all find ways to delight the tens of thousands of students, alumni and friends who love and take pride in The University of Akron.
- Let’s go out of our way for our current students and form special bonds with them! As faculty, staff, and administrators, we can really make a difference in student retention through personal contact.
- Let’s reassure communities, governments and businesses who know how vital and necessary this university is to the city and region! They need to hear our message.
These constitute a few simple strategies. Naturally, there are many more strategies that can have an even greater impact. Our message is so much more powerful if we unite, and share the positive news. It can be even more significant if we can band together and find innovative, flexible, and quality ways to educate current and future students.
Please join with me in demonstrating to the world (in ways both small and large) that we are united, we are proud, and we intend to work hard to reclaim our future. Let me share a specific example of what I mean:
Our good friends at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have supported one of our students, Stephanie Weber, a business major starting her junior year this fall, in her desire to create a #LoveUAkron initiative.
Some of us on campus yesterday joined the #LoveUAkron event by jotting down why we love The University of Akron on postcards and attaching them to a clothesline on the grassy area next to the Student Union. This is a great idea and one I would like to see repeated in the fall when more of our faculty and students will be on campus and able to participate. For now, however, each of us can go to our online story and video to see the simple but moving expressions of pride and love for this University.
As you know, our immediate future involves several significant challenges. In his remarks Monday night, Roland Bauer, chairman of The University of Akron Board of Trustees, outlined the five priorities that need to be addressed:
- developing a sustainable budget;
- increasing enrollment;
- accelerating our progress in increasing student retention;
- rebuilding and strengthening relationships with our various constituencies; and
- significantly growing our development efforts.
We can and will meet every one of these priorities if we work together, aggressively and optimistically. To overcome the recent past and meet these priorities, we will need to quickly redouble our efforts. Given the challenges in our immediate path, I anticipate that extra effort and collective sacrifice will be needed. We may have to forego some good things for the greater good. Nonetheless, our current trials will make us even stronger and even more united.
Invitation to engage
In the near future, I will also be distributing an e-mail to the university community asking for your input and ideas. We have incredible talent and ability on our campus so I would like to solicit your thoughts about how we might best approach the priorities at hand. As I truly value your input, I strongly encourage you to prepare your ideas and keep an eye out for this e-mail. We are currently preparing the survey tool.
Your direct input will be passed along to the tiger team tasked with addressing our most immediate concerns. The 20 campus representatives on the tiger team have divided into subgroups, and will be looking closely at:
- New recruiting and retention strategies
- New revenue ideas
- Cost savings measures
- Shared governance enhancement
- Communications improvement
The challenges before us are extraordinary and will require an extraordinary effort from everyone. We all have existing obligations to meet and duties to fulfill, and the task of reversing negative trends will ask even more of us.
I know this because, less than 72 hours into my new job, I am already experiencing that need. Long before the prospect even existed of becoming interim president, I developed a two-country, three-city, four-week study abroad program in Asia to expand our global offerings and attract students. I made a firm commitment to teach classes to 25 students over the course of one month in Tokyo (Japan), Nagoya (Japan), and Seoul (South Korea) this summer.
Because I consider teaching our inviolable first priority as educators, I cannot abandon the commitment I made earlier this year. At the same time, I wanted to hit the ground running as Interim President for the benefit of everyone. So, for the next four weeks, I will travel back and forth from Asia to Akron three separate times to meet my obligations as your leader here and an educator there. I will be in constant contact via email or Skype, and will try to be as responsive as I can to everyone who reaches out to me.
In closing, I want to emphasize something I said at the Board meeting on Monday. I encourage all members of our University community to see this as a new day, and to turn to the future…to collectively seek sustainable solutions to our challenges…to exercise patience and understanding in the process…and to work as a team going forward.
Thank you again, and I look forward to our work together.
Matthew J. Wilson